Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to have a productive summer by working four hours a day

It’s summertime and the living is pretty…. Or, at least it should be!

How can you have a remarkably productive summer and return to the school year feeling refreshed and like you had a break? To do this, you need to plan to be productive and to plan to leave time to enjoy life. The thing is, if you plan to work all the time, you are likely to feel guilty every moment you aren’t working. And, who wants to feel guilty all of the time?

Plan to be productive

To plan to be productive, first you have to decide what you will accomplish over the summer. Make a list of all of the things you would like to do this summer. Include everything – from revising book chapters to analyzing data to submitting articles to finalizing your syllabi.

Once you have your list, decide when you are going to complete these things. Start with the most important items first. How long do you think it will take you to turn that dissertation chapter into an article? How long will it take for you to come up with a draft for your next book project or grant proposal? Now, map those tasks onto your summer weeks. What will you do between May 15 and May 31? Between June 1 and June 15?

Prioritize your Tasks

Once you map your tasks onto your calendar, you likely will realize that you have more tasks than time. But, believe me, it is better to realize this now than at the end of the summer. At this point, you still have time to prioritize. What is most important? What items have deadlines? What can wait until the Fall or until next summer? What can’t wait? What can you drop or delegate?

Make a Schedule – and stick to it

The next step is to come up with a work schedule. When will you work and when will you play? Many people work best in the mornings; others are best late at night. How many hours will you work each day? How much time will you spend writing each day? When and where will you do your writing?

If you wish to return to the semester relaxed and refreshed, I recommend trying to work every day for just four hours. That’s right – just four hours! You see, academic work is trying and if you try to work all day, every day, you most likely will get burned out. Instead, if you try to work for just four hours every day, you will have the rest of the day to re-energize and are less likely to burn out.

Limit your working hours

Believe me - you can have a very productive summer if you work for four focused hours each morning. The thing is – you do have to focus during that time. And, it works best if your time really is limited. Last summer, for example, I worked while my children were in summer camp. This meant that I had from 8am to noon each day to work. My husband and I have agreed that, during that time, I will be allowed to concentrate and focus on my work. I will not clean, cook, do laundry, watch television, or surf the Internet during that time. I have all the rest of the day to complete household tasks and to relax.

Make time for yourself each day

As academics, we all need time to process our ideas, thoughts, plans, emotions, and experiences. It is crucial that you carve at least an hour out of each day for yourself when you can process all of your thoughts. This time allows you to make plans, to come up to solutions to theoretical puzzles, and to relax your mind.

If you have children, finding alone time can be tricky. But, there usually is a way. When my children were small, I took them to the gym each day – where they had a daycare where I could leave the children while I exercised. Now that they are older, I take them to the park where I can walk around the track while they play. Other ideas would be to put a DVD on for the children while you meditate or run on your treadmill. In my mind, me-time each day involves exercise, but others may prefer to garden, sew, crochet, knit, paint, or work on model airplanes. So long as it is an activity that allows you to think and reflect, it should work.

If you doubt my suggestion that you can be productive working just four hours a day, I encourage you to try it and see what happens. And, let me know how it goes….


  1. This blog is very inspirational. Thank you very much for writing it. Hopefully I can provide a much more effective time for myself.

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    It takes a while to figure out what works best for you, but it is well worth the effort.
    Best of luck!

  3. four hours feels so little! i have a hard time not feeling guilty for not working 8 hours, like at a real job.

  4. Sistaninja: I hear you! The thing is, I don't know any academics who consistently work on research for eight hours a day. Those who do work eight hours plus a day tend to spend a lot of time on teaching and admin. Thus, during the summer, when we have less of that going on, it often is not productive to even try to work eight hours. Anyway, my suggestion is to track how many hours you dedicate to research and writing this week. Then, take the average of your daily hours and make that your goal. Let me know how it goes!